The Revolution in Robotics

There are two parts to the revolution in robotics we are seeing.   

The first revolution in robotics is based on tech trends already underway.  

The inflection point for this revolution occurred in 2001, when the standard computer chip exceeded the intelligence of an insect. 

With chips like this, robots quickly became inexpensive, accessible, and powerful.  For example, an autopilot system that cost ten thousands of dollars a decade ago is now available for $30 and can run on a small amount of power.

Here's an example of what is possible with this revolution:

While this revolution is fairly dramatic, don't expect too much.  

The capabilities of these robots won't advance any faster than the ability of human beings to write code, design and build hardware, and build successful businesses to support than activity.  

This reliance on human design and development also means that progress in navigating, interacting with, and making sense of complex, dynamic environments will be slow and hardwon.   

The second revolution in robotics is different.  It will be much more dramatic in its impact.  It is based on exponential improvements in machine learning.

These advances make it possible for machines to learn behaviors that make it possible for robots accomplish tasks that only humans can do today -- like driving cars safely in urban traffic to providing physical assistance and medical support to homebound elderly.    

Further, these cognitive machines will learn in days what it takes human developers months to accomplish (if they can do it all).  

In contrast to the previous revolution, this one will be amazing and traumatic at the same time.   

For example, this revolution in synthetic cognition has the potential to remake the modern economy as completely as industrial machinery and computation changed the agrarian economy of the 1700's.  

I've spent the last year thinking about how this machine learning revolution will change the way we fight wars and provide security.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

John Robb

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